Cartha is equal parts prairies, deserts, and jungles, divided up by steep mountain ranges. Though a continent-spanning empire flourished here centuries ago, decades of crises, weak regimes, and rebellions have reduced it to a few coastal cities, bordered by brushland swiftly surrendering to the desert. Antioch is the major hub of trade for the country and its de facto capital, exporting ivory, exotic spices, and guides used to the hard life of the desert. Though there are rumors of lush lands to the south, most of the northern continent of Cartha is harsh, rugged terrain. There is little room there for expansion, and so most life is confined to the cities and towns along the northern coast. The population of these coastal cities and settlements numbers around 1.5 million.
Antioch is the capital of Cartha and main center of its trade and commerce. Extensive fishing fleets ply the Great Strait, desert tribes harvest a magical spice out of the deserts, and caravans bring loads of spice and medicines out of the south. Traders in Antioch have relations with small settlements on the northern border of the jungles, who make shallow, short range incursions south to gather resources. There is no formal contact between the northern centers of power and the south. Antioch was primarily a center of learning in the golden age, and there are also several ancient libraries and places of arcane learning that dominate the skyline of the residential and commercial areas. All the trade and commerce followed the government when it moved here. Antioch is primarily ruled by House Pulo and House Aurelius, but all the great houses have their bases and leaders there by ancient tradition.
Other cities along the bay are Ephesus, Hellendria, and Norbanesis. Hellendria was the main staging point for Carthic military forces crossing the Great Strait for centuries. Though the imperial army is largely disbanded, the remnants under House Norbanus maintain the great barracks, and all the major houses keep token forces garrisoned there. Ephesus is the site of the Careful Coven, and is a common port for the pirates of Freeland. Norbanesis was once a vacation city for the Emperor’s visits north. In the waning centuries of the empire, it became the official seat of power and grew considerably. After the Carthic rebellions, there was great chaos in the dissolving empire, and the seat of power moved again to the economic center of the country, Antioch.
Carthic history stretches back millennia. The nation that governed the southern continent of Erna has existed for so long that its calendar stretches back further than any surviving historical records, leaving its distant past the province of gods and monsters. However, for all its history, the harsh and unforgiving terrain of the continent has fostered fierce competition among its people. Nations in the north primarily stuck to the coasts, establishing complex systems of irrigation to push back the Saraha Desert and building trade networks with the peoples of Erna. Peoples to the south found magic more plentiful and powerful in the dense jungles, and built fleeting kingdoms led by powerful sorcerers.
Eventually, a powerful leader took advantage of the perfect circumstances to bring the south under one banner. The nomadic peoples of the north were quick to fall in line, and it is around the time that the whole continent was united that the Carthic Empire's calendar begins. For many hundreds of years, the empire was focused on internal consolidation and infrastructure, cutting great roads through the jungles, coordinating continent-wide peace and security, and establishing a national system of resource allocation. It is suspected that this time of internal focus was at the direction of a single, long-lived ruler.
After this time of consolidation, the empire's attention did turn outwards, and it began founding a series of colonies and outposts on the fringes of Erna. The people of the main continent were fragmented and unorganized, with no governments that could rival the size and power of Cartha, and it wasn't long before the drums of war and conquest sounded in the halls of the empire. The lands closest to Cartha were quick to fall, and within a century the majority of Erna was under their control.
Cultural differences and the great distances involved made the first years of the empire extremely chaotic. The strong magics of the jungles of Cartha, which enabled their conquest, grew weaker the farther away from the homeland mages got, and became used mostly for communication and logistics. Several generations passed, with the empire's borders growing and shrinking, until Erna began to forget the time before Carthic rule, and things calmed down. Around a hundred years after their initial wars of conquest, empire began another slow, steady expansion that lasted until it controlled all the populated regions of the continent.
The golden age of the Carthic Empire lasted almost a thousand years. Poor leaders, catastrophes, and wars came and went, but the strong organization and infrastructure of the empire endured. Though the people of Erna, especially those of the west, resented the seat of power lying so far away in foreign hands, the efficient management of the empire prevented large scale disruptions.
This golden age was followed by a period of decline, and the empire began to succumb to the same forces that claim all mortal governments. This culminated in a series of rebellions which saw the people of Erna finally breaking free after a millennia of rule. Cut off from their vast network of resources, the empire crumbled, almost all contact was lost with the southern ancestral cities, and the vast imperial armies dissolved.
Present day Cartha is a loose oligarchy of ancient family houses, with the title of emperor largely symbolic. Instead of carrying any real weight, the title of emperor mainly represents the state of the balance of power between the major houses. The government mainly levies taxes to maintain a small military and the cities, providing few services to the people outside them beyond warding off the influence of other nations. In this power vacuum, towns, merchant guilds, and other organizations have formed a network of administration and security. While a particular family house might build relationships and command the fealty of traders or even whole settlements, these bonds are ever changing.
The current emperor is Titus, of House Pulo. The Pulos have done great work organizing and growing the spice trade from the southern jungles, and have reestablished relations with the tribes of the great Saraha Desert, but are also known for being incredibly corrupt and nepotistic.
The North and the South
The dissolution of the empire began with the rebellion of Erna nations and continued internally. In a desperate move to solidify control, the emperor moved their capital north to Antioch. After a decade of continued decline, with trade and the flow of Erna goods breaking down, the empire suffered one final loss of territory. The south of Cartha, the birthplace of the empire, formally broke ties. Their argument was that a weak, false empire had allowed the rebellions to take place, and those pretenders could rot in the north, with the rest of Erna. The emperor in the north had the legitimacy of a clear lineage, but had no power to prevent this secession either. The Carthic armies disbanded and marched home (mainly into the jungles), and the north officially disavowed the south.
Time passed, lines of communication broke down and became politically unwise, and word from the south changed from infrequent to myth. Small towns and hamlets, living in the Brushland bordering the jungle, Supply Caravans heading north with goods from the jungle, but their source is not questioned or examined. Modern day ties to the South are personal, secret, and difficult to maintain across the vast distance and Treacherous Terrain.
Cartha retains few diplomatic or economical relationships with Erna beyond its immediate neighbors. As such, it has had little effect on recent world affairs. The Empire does have a formal alliance with Gastonia, the nation longest dominated and most integrated, culturally and demographically. However, it did not mobilize to Gastonia's aid in its recent war with Harkath.
Demographics and Culture
Carthic culture (borrowing heavily from the ancient Romans) can be found stamped on all of Erna due to its dominance of the land. Powerful institutions were established during its golden age which last to this day, and the language and letters of Cartha were spread so far and wide that they came to be known as "Common." The desert tribes have an indigenous language of their own, but interact with Carthic settlements enough that most also speak Common.
Like the other major powers of Erna, the Carthic Empire has always been primarily human, but has large native populations of elves, dwarves, and gnomes. Smaller populations exist of halflings, who are often unsuited to the harsh climate, and orcs and half-orcs, who have migrated from Erna over time.
A pair of blue dragons live deep in the Saraha Desert and have had a pact of nonaggression with the empire for centuries. Blue dragonborn can often be found in the streets of Carthic cities and towns, but other colors of Dragonkin, rarely so.
Another group often found in Cartha are the Genasi. These mortal descendants of the planes of fire and air are found more often in Antioch than anywhere else in the world, and maintain several communities in the region. It is rumored that gates to the elemental planes exist deep in the desert.
The Thri-Kreen and an arid variety of lizardfolk dwell primarily in the desert and make up a majority of the desert tribes. They have not integrated much with the empire, but maintain trading relationships with the coast. The Thri-Kreen specifically count on imperial resources to combat the Formians that also live in the desert, and are an enemy to all.
Houses of Cartha
The Family Houses of Cartha were the most prominent groups of the vast machine that maintained the empire. As the empire began to wane, these families increased in prominence, wealth, and influence and formed a cartel that buoyed and controlled the imperial throne. They now dominate the industries they traditionally worked in, and clash constantly in a cat and cat game of political intrigue.
|Major Houses||Ancient Roles||Seat of Power|
|Pulo||Miners and Smiths||Antioch|
|Aurelius||Masons and Laborers||Antioch|
|Modius||Commerce and Trade||Antioch|
|Vitruvius||Seers and Clerics||Ephesus|
|Minor Houses||Ancient Roles||Seat of Power||Current Alliances|
|Orchius||Rites and Worship||Ephesus||Vitruvius|
|Platium||Arts and Finery||Hellendria||Pulo|
|Laceria||Alchemy and Sciences||Ephesus||Aurelius|
Mercenaries and Houses
The family houses of Cartha control the major industries of the country and each maintain a personal military force. However, the gaps between the houses and their constant power struggling have birthed a thriving population of independent operators. Servants and warriors of every variety compete, from individual tutors and scouts to whole fighting forces and catering groups, for work with House-embedded counterparts, and enjoy a pragmatic culture where working with one house does not stigmatize you to another. However, these contract workers are a sort of second class in Carthic society, which revolves around ancestry and lineage. Some strive to sign on full time to a given house, while others enjoy their autonomy.
Royal Apothecary Society: founded by House Laceria, this organization spread over the entire world and became a force far greater than the Lacerians had ever been. It maintains its ancestral headquarters in an old city at the bay of the great river that runs through the jungles of southern Cartha. It is the furthest south settlement that northern Cartha has contact with, but only Apothecary Society personnel travel to and from there.
Desert Tribes- Humans and Lizardfolk who scratch out a living in the desolate wastes of the Saraha Desert. The secrets of how they survive out in the trackless dunes are theirs alone. They do provide access to a magical spice called Melange, which can only be found deep in the desert and provides numerous health benefits. The largest tribe is the Chalakka, and they’re the only tribe to maintain an emissary who lives in Antioch.
The Conclave: An ancient center of arcane learning, dating back to the early days of the unified empire.
The Careful Coven: An organization of persecuted spellcasters, quietly endorsed by the Conclave.